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Wed February 22, 2012
A Pirate's Perspective In 'Fishing Without Nets'
A battered wooden skiff motors along the horn of East Africa. Onboard are a half-dozen men clutching AK-47s and debating whether they'll need to shoot. They are Somali pirates.
Or rather, they're actors playing Somali pirates in a short feature film titled Fishing Without Nets. It tells the story of piracy off the coast of Somalia — from the perspective of the pirates — and it won the jury prize for short filmmaking at this year's Sundance Film Festival.
Twenty-five-year-old writer and director Cutter Hodierne says when he heard about the Somali pirates in 2008, he was obsessed by the topic.
"There was something about these hapless criminals — who were in many cases 16- and 17-year-old guys — who had these big shipping companies by the throat and had the attention of all of the world," Hodierne tells NPR's Melissa Block. And what was interesting to Hodierne, he says, was "telling the story from the perspective of the Somalis."
"I sort of saw their angle as the side of the story that nobody could get in and try and tell," he says.
Hodierne traveled to Somalia for research but shot the film in adjacent Kenya.
"We chose Mombasa, Kenya, because geographically we thought we could make it look like Somalia, and there's a large Somali refugee population," Hodierne says.
There, Hodierne began working on the script. He cast Somalis he and his crew met on the street, along with actors from auditions set up at a local nightclub.
"It all went through this one guy named Abu Bakr," Hodierne says. "And Abu Bakr was like the William Morris Agency of East Africa. He linked us up with some very authentic guys who had just been in Somalia very recently, and who were militia fighters."
At the center of Fishing Without Nets is a young man named Abdi, a fisherman and father with a baby daughter. Although Abdi is struggling to get by with very little money, he initially refuses a pirate's offer of some quick cash, saying he wants to stay honest and teach that honesty to his children. But the lure of big money grows as Abdi's situation gets more desperate, and ultimately he's pulled in.
Hodierne explains that when he started his research, he had a romanticized view of pirates.
"I was going over there to portray a Robin Hood story and thought, 'These guys are fighting back against illegal fishing in their waters and the dumping of waste,' " Hodierne says. "When I arrived there, and I started living among these guys — and getting robbed and stolen from myself — I started to realize it wasn't this simple. There's a sliding scale of morality that exists in a place where people are very desperate, and I started to change my perspective on how I viewed the pirates."
By telling the story from the pirates' perspective, Hodierne admits, the film may ask its audience to empathize with a character who's doing wrong.
"You do run the risk of glorifying something that shouldn't be glorified," Hodierne says. "But on a human level, you could ... empathize with anybody who's in a desperate situation and is doing something they wouldn't otherwise do."
Hodierne says that he doesn't support Somali piracy but understands why someone would take to that life.
"I think it comes down to just not having your basic human needs met," Hodierne says. "I think the guys who are infantry in Somali piracy are not unlike low-level drug dealers in urban areas in America, who see [choosing crime] as not having many other options. It comes down to money and needing to survive. It's not the right thing to do, but it can be a means to become extremely rich in a short matter of time by doing something extremely, extremely risky."
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
A battered wooden skiff motors along the horn of East Africa.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FISHING WITHOUT NETS")
BLOCK: On board, a half dozen men clutching AK-47s, debating whether they'll need to shoot. They're Somali pirates. Or rather, they're actors playing Somali pirates in a new short feature film titled "Fishing Without Nets." It just won the jury prize in short filmmaking at Sundance. And it's directed by 25-year-old Cutter Hodierne, who also wrote the script. And he joins me from NPR West. Cutter, welcome to the program.
CUTTER HODIERNE: Thanks for having me.
BLOCK: Why a film about Somali pirates? What is it about that story?
HODIERNE: Well, back in 2008, I just got hugely obsessed with the topic. You know, there was something about these kind of hapless criminals who are, you know, in many cases 16- and 17-year-old guys who have these big shipping companies sort of by the throat and have the attention of all of the world. And the interesting side of the story, to me, was telling the story from the perspective of the Somalis. I sort of saw their angle as the side of the story that nobody could really get in and tell.
BLOCK: Now, at the center of the movie is a young man named Abdi, who's a fisherman. He's also a father. He has a baby daughter. And we hear them together in this scene.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FISHING WITHOUT NETS")
BLOCK: And this kind of gets to the tension here because he has no money. He's struggling. His daughter needs medicine. And when a pirate tries to convince him to join their team, he says, no, I want to stay honest. That's what I was taught, and that's what I want to teach my children. What does he ultimately decide?
HODIERNE: Well, he ultimately sort of pulled in and, you know, lured into working with these guys. And to me, when I went over to research and make a film about pirates, I had what was, admittedly, sort of a romanticized idea of who these guys were. I was going over there to portray sort of a Robin Hood story and thought, you know, these guys are fighting back against, you know, illegal fishing in their waters and the dumping of waste. And when I arrived there and I started living among these guys and working and getting robbed and stolen from myself, I started to realize that it wasn't this simple, that there is this sort of sliding scale of morality that exists in a place where people are very desperate, and I started to change my perspective on how I viewed the pirates.
BLOCK: Well, you shot the movie in Kenya, not in Somalia, but in Kenya, next door. How did you find the actors? What was your casting process like?
HODIERNE: Well, we chose Mombasa, Kenya, because, geographically, we thought we could make it look sort of like Somalia. And there's a large Somali refugee population. So we got over there, and we started working on the script. And in the process, we started casting guys, and they would be Somalis that we would meet on the street, that we would meet through some auditions that we held at a local nightclub. But it all went through this one guy named Abu Bakr. And Abu Bakr was like the William Morris Agency of East Africa, and he really linked us up with some very authentic guys who were, you know, had just been in Somalia just very recently and who had - or militia fighters and very authentic guys.
BLOCK: Cutter, you said earlier that you didn't want to romanticize pirates or piracy, but I wonder, by taking their side, by telling a story from their perspective, isn't that sort of inherent in the task that there's going to be some amount of identification, glorification of what they're doing?
HODIERNE: Yeah. I guess you can't deny that if you start to empathize with the character who's doing something bad, you do run the risk of sort of glorifying something that shouldn't be glorified. But on a human level, you could just empathize with anybody who's sort of in a desperate situation and is doing something that they wouldn't otherwise do. I don't support Somali piracy, but I do sort of understand why somebody would do it.
BLOCK: And the conclusion you've drawn about that is why would somebody turn to piracy?
HODIERNE: I think it comes down to just not having your basic human needs met. I think the guys who are sort of infantry in Somali piracy are not unlike low-level drug dealers in urban areas in America, who see it as, you know, not having many other options. I think it comes down to money and needing to survive. And it's not the right thing to do, but it can be a means to become extremely rich in a short matter of time but by, you know, doing something extremely, extremely risky.
BLOCK: I've been talking with Cutter Hodierne. He directed the short feature film titled "Fishing Without Nets." Cutter, it's been good to talk to you. Thanks so much.
HODIERNE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.